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"He fainted. Servants were hurried in. Evenwhen he recovered, he was dazed-he really for ayear had not had enough to eat. Aunt Lydiaalways delighted in telling how the young Brotherhelped him down the avenue after he could walk.This is a tediously long story."
"Do go on."
"When he again reached the big iron gates heturned toward the house and with many strangewords and gestures called down the mercies ofHeaven on that roof and all that should eversleep under it-"
"He blessed us right and left, up and down, fore and aft-he was a fine old fellow, Adrian.When my mother heard the story she was naturallyembarrassed. It looked something like obtainingblessings under false pretences. The only thingshe could do to ease her conscience was to sendover a second cheque."
"It came near killing Brother Adrian. It seemsodd, too, compared with the cut-and-dried way inwhich we solemnly endow institutions nowadays, doesn't it? They all three are dead, but we havealways stood, in a way, with Adrian's people.
"The young man that made the exciting call withhim is now the superior over there, BrotherEdmund. After the trouble we had with Uncle John,in finding some one he could stand and who couldstand him, I went one day in despair to BrotherEdmund. I allowed him to commit himselfproperly on what they owed to Aunt Lydia'sgoodness and the rest, and then began to abusehim and told him he ought to supply a nurse formy uncle. He told me theirs was a teaching orderand not a nursing order. I redoubled my harshness.'It is all very well when you need anything,'I said, 'when we need anything it is different.Did those women,' I thundered, 'ask what youwere, when you were starving here?'
"It wasn't precisely logical, but abuse should bevigorous rather than logical, anyway, and I triedto be vigorous. They got very busy, I can tellyou. They held a conclave of some sort anddecided that Uncle John must be taken care of. Ifhe were a common pauper, they argued, theywould not refuse to take care of him; should theyrefuse because he was a pauper of means? Theyconcluded that it was a debt they owed to AuntLydia and by Heaven, next morning over camethis sallow-faced, dark-eyed Brother Francis, andthere he is still with Uncle John."
MacBirney's personal efforts in effectingthe combination with the Kimberlyinterests were adjudged worthy of a substantialrecognition at the hands of the company and he wasgiven charge of the Western territory together witha place on the big directorate of all the companiesand made one of the three voting trustees of thesyndicate stock. The two other trustees were,as a "matter of form," Kimberly men-McCreaand Cready Hamilton. This meant for MacBirneya settled Eastern residence and one befittinga gentleman called to an honor so unusual. Hewas made to feel that his new circumstancesentailed new backgrounds socially as well as thosethat had been accorded him in a monetary way, and through the Kimberlys, negotiations werespeedily concluded for his acquiring of the CedarLodge villa some miles across the lake from The Towers.
At the end of a trying two months, theMacBirneys were in their new home and Alice hadbegun receiving from her intimates congratulationsover the telephone.Another month, and abusy one, went to finishing touches. At the endof that period there was apparently more thanever to be done. It seemed that a beginning hadhardly been made, but the new servants were athome in their duties, and Alice thought she couldset a date for an evening. Her head, night andday, was in more or less of a whirl.
The excitement of new fortunes had come verysuddenly upon her and with her husband shewalked every day as if borne on the air of wakingdreams. Dolly declared that Alice was working toohard, and that her weary conferences withdecorators and furnishers were too continual.Occasionally, Dolly took matters into her own handsand was frequently in consultation on domesticperplexities; sometimes she dragged Alice abruptlyfrom them.
Even before it had been generally seen, the newhome, once thrown open, secured Alice's reputationamong her friends. What was within it reflectedher taste and discrimination. And her appointmentswere not only good, they were distinctive.To be able to drape the vestments of a house so asto make of it almost at once a home was not afeat to pass unnoticed among people who studiedeffects though they did not invariably secure them.
Robert Kimberly declared that Alice, undermany disadvantages, had achieved an air ofstability and permanence in her home. Dolly toldLottie Nelson that nothing around the lakeamong the newer homes compared with it. LottieNelson naturally hated Alice more cordially thanever for her success. She ventured, when thenew house was being discussed at a dinner, to saythat Mr. MacBirney seemed to have excellenttaste; whereupon Charles Kimberly over a saladbluntly replied that the time MacBirney hadshown his taste was when he chose a wife. "But,"added Charles, reflectively, "perhaps a man doesn'tprove his taste so much in getting a wife as inkeeping one.
"Any man," he continued, "may be lucky enoughto get a wife; we see that every day. But who, save a man of feeling, could keep, well, sayImogene or Dolly, for instance?"
Robert agreed that if the MacBirney homeshowed anything it showed the touch of anagreeable woman. "Any one," he declared, paraphrasing his brother, "can buy pretty things, butit takes a clever woman to combine them."
One result of the situation was a new cordialityfrom Lottie Nelson to the MacBirneys. Andsince it had become necessary to pay court tothem, Lottie resolved to pay hers to Mr. MacBirney.She was resourceful rather than deep, and hoped by this to annoy Alice and possibly tostir Robert Kimberly out of his exasperatingindifference. The indifference of a Kimberly couldassume in its proportions the repose of a monument.
Lottie, too, was a mover in many of thediversions arranged to keep the lake set amused. Butas her efforts did not always tend to make thingseasy for Alice, Dolly became active herself insuggesting things.
One Saturday morning a message came fromher, directing Alice to forbid her husband's goingto town, drop everything, provide a lunch and joina motoring party for the seashore. MacBirneyfollowing the lines of Robert Kimberly'sexperience with cars had secured at his suggestion, among others, a foreign car from which thingsmight reasonably be expected.
Imogene Kimberly and Charles took Alice withthem and Dolly rode with MacBirney, who hadRobert Kimberly with him in the new car to seehow it behaved. Kimberly's own chauffeur drovefor them. Doane took Arthur De Castro andFritzie Venable. The servants and the lunchfollowed with a De Castro chauffeur.
As the party climbed toward Sea Ridge a showerdrove them into the grounds of a country club.While it rained, the women, their long veils thrownback, walked through the club house, and themen paced about, smoking.
Alice, seated at a table on the veranda, waslooking at an illustrated paper when RobertKimberly joined her. He told her whatextravagant stories he had heard from Dolly about thesuccess of her new home. She laughed over hissister's enthusiasm, admitted her own, andconfessed at length how the effort to get satisfactoryeffects had tired her. He in turn described toher what he had once been through in startinga new refinery and how during the strain of sixweeks the hair upon his temples had perceptiblywhitened, turning brown again when the mentalpressure was relieved.
"I never heard of such a thing," exclaimed Alice.
"I don't know how unusual it is, but it hashappened more than once in our family. Iremember my mother's hair once turned in thatway. But my mother had much sadness in her life."
"Mrs. De Castro often speaks of your mother."
"She was a brave woman. You have neverseen her portrait? Sometime at The Towers youmust. And you can see on her temples just whatI speak of. But your home-making will have justthe opposite effect on you. If care makes thehair white, happiness ought to make it brownerthan ever."
"I suppose happiness is wholly a matter ofillusion."
"I don't see that it makes much difference howwe define it; the thing is to be happy. However,if what you say is so, you should cling to yourillusions. Get all you can-I should-and keep allyou can get."
"You don't mean to say you practise that?"
"Of course I do. And I think for a man I'vekept my illusions very well."
"For a man!" Alice threw her head back."That is very comfortable assurance."
He looked at her with composure. "What isit you object to in it?"
"To begin with," demanded Alice, "how can aman have any illusions? He knows everythingfrom the very beginning."
"Oh, by no means. Far from it, I assure you."
"He has every chance to. It is only the poorwomen who are constantly disillusionized in life."
"You mustn't be disillusionized, Mrs. MacBirney.Hope unceasingly."
She resented the personal application. "I amnot speaking of myself."
"Nor am I speaking of you, only speakingthrough you to womankind. You 'poor women'should not be discouraged." He raised his headas if he were very confident. "If we can hope, you can hope. I hope every day. I hope in a woman."
She bore his gaze as she had already borne itonce or twice before, steadily, but as one mightbear the gaze of a dangerous creature, ifstrengthened by the certainty of iron bars before itsimpassive eyes. Kimberly was both too considerateand possessed too much sense of fitness to overdothe moment. With his hand he indicated awoman walking along a covered way in front of them."There, for instance, goes a woman," he continued, following up his point. "Look at her. Isn'tshe pretty? I like her walk. And a woman's walk!It is impossible to say how much depends on thewalk. And all women that walk well have goodfeet; their heels set right and there is a pleasurein watching each sure foot-fall. Notice, forinstance, that woman's feet; her walk is perfect."
"How closely observant!"
"She is well gowned-but everybody is wellgowned. And her figure is good. Let us say, Ihope in her, hope she will be all she looks. Ifollow the dream. In a breath, an instant, atwinkling, the illusion has vanished! She has spoken,or she has looked my way and I have seen herface. But even then the face is only the dial ofthe watch; it may be very fair. Sometime I seeher mind-and everything is gone!"
"Would it be impertinent to ask who has putwomen up in this way to be inspected andcriticised?" retorted Alice.
"Not in the least. I am speaking only inillustration and if you are annoyed with me I shallmiss making my point. Do I give up merelybecause I have lost an illusion? Not at all. Anothersprings up at once, and I welcome it. Let us livein our illusions; every time we part with one andfind none to take its place we are poorer,Mrs. MacBirney, believe me."
"Just the same, I think you are horridly criticalof women."
"Then you should advise me to cultivate myillusions in their direction."
"I should if I thought it were necessary. As Ihave a very high opinion of women, I don't thinkany illusions concerning them are necessary."
"Loftily said. And I sha'n't allow you to thinkmy own opinion any less high. When I was aboy, women were all angels to me; they are notquite that, we know."
"In spite of illusions."
"But I don't want to put them very much lowerthan the angels-and I don't. I keep them upbecause I like to."
Her comment was still keen. "Not becausethey deserve it."
"I won't quarrel with you-because, then, theydo deserve it. It is pleasant to be set right."
The shower had passed and the party was makingready to start. Alice rose. "You haven't saidwhat you think of your own kind, as you callthem-menkind."
Kimberly held her coat for her to slip into."Of course, I try not to think of them."
When they reached the summit dividing thelake country from the sea the sun was shining.To the east, the sound lay at their feet. In thewest stretched the heavy forests and the long chainof lakes. They followed the road to the sea andafter their shore luncheon relaxed for an hour atthe yacht club. Driving back by the river roadthey put the new car through some paces, andhalting at intervals to interchange passengers, they proceeded homeward.
Going through Sunbury at five o'clock the carsseparated. MacBirney, with whom RobertKimberly was again riding, had taken in FritzieVenable and Alice. Leaving the village they chose thehill road around the lake. Brice, Kimberly'schauffeur, took advantage of the long, straighthighway leading to it to let the car out a little.They were running very fast when he noticed thesparker was binding and stopped for a moment.It was just below the Roger Morgan place andKimberly, who could never for a moment abideidleness, suggested that they alight while Briceworked. He stood at the door of the tonneau andgave his hand to Alice as she stepped from thecar. In getting out, her foot slipped and sheturned her ankle. She would have fallen butthat Kimberly caught her. Alice recoveredherself immediately, yet not without an instant'sdependence on him that she would rather haveescaped.
Brice was slow in correcting the mechanicaldifficulty, and finding it at last in the magnetoannounced it would make a delay of twentyminutes. Fritzie suggested that they walk throughher park and meet the car at the lower end.MacBirney started up one of the hill paths with Alice,Kimberly and Fritzie following. They passedMorgan house and higher in the hills they reachedthe chapel. Alice took her husband in to see thebeauty of the interior. She told him Dolly's storyof the building and when Fritzie and Kimberlyjoined them, Alice was regretting that Dolly hadfailed to recollect the name of the church in Romeit was modelled after. Kimberly came to her aid."Santa Maria in Cosmedin, I think."
"Oh, do you remember? Thank you," exclaimedAlice. "Isn't it all beautiful, Walter?And those old pulpits-I'm in love with them!"
MacBirney pronounced everything admirableand prepared to move on. He walked toward thedoor with Fritzie.
Alice, with Kimberly, stood before the chancellooking at the balustrade. She stopped near thenorth ambone, and turning saw in the soft lightof the aisle the face of the boy dreaming in thesilence of the bronze.
Below it, measured words of Keats were dimlyvisible. Alice repeated them half aloud. "Whata strange inscription," she murmured almost toherself.
Kimberly stood at her elbow. "It is strange."
She was silent for a moment. "I think itis the most beautiful head of a boy I have everseen."
"Have you seen it before?"
"I was here once with Mrs. De Castro."
"She told you the story?"
"No, we remained only a moment." Aliceread aloud the words raised in the bronze: "'Robert Ten Broeck Morgan: ?tat: 20.'"
"Should you like to hear it?"
"His father married my half-sister-Bertha;Charles and I are sons of my father's secondmarriage. 'Tennie' was Bertha's son-strangely shyand sensitive from his childhood, even morbidlysensitive. I do not mean unbalanced in any way-"
"A sister of his, Marie, became engaged to ayoung man of a Southern family who came hereafter the war. They were married and theirwedding was made the occasion of a great familyaffair for the Morgans, and Alices and Legares andKimberlys. Tennie was chosen for groomsman.The house that you have seen below was filledwith wedding guests. The hour came."
"And such a place for a wedding!" exclaimed Alice.
"But instead of the bridal procession that theguests were looking for, a clergyman came downthe stairs with a white face. When he couldspeak, he announced as well as he could that thewedding would not take place that night; that aterrible accident had occurred, and that TennieMorgan was lying upstairs dead."
Alice could not recall, even afterward, thatKimberly appeared under a strain; but she noticed asshe listened that he spoke with a care not quitenatural.
"You may imagine the scene," he continued."But the worst was to come-"
"Oh, you were there?"
"When you hear the rest you will think, if thereis a God, I should have been, for I might havesaved him. I was in Honolulu. I did not evenhear of it for ten days. They found him in hisbathroom where he had dressed, thrown himselfon a couch, and shot himself."
"In his bedroom they found a letter. It hadbeen sent to him within the hour by a party ofblackmailers, pressing a charge-of which hewas quite innocent-on the part of a designingwoman, and threatening that unless he compliedwith some impossible demands, his exposure andnews of an action for damages should follow inthe papers containing the account of his sister'swedding. They found with this his own letter tohis mother. He assured her the charge wasutterly false, but being a Kimberly he knew heshould not be believed because of the reputationof his uncles, one of whom he named, and afterwhom he himself was named, and to whomhe had always been closest. This, he feared, would condemn him no matter how innocent hemight be; he felt he should be unable to lift fromhis name a disgrace that would always be recalledwith his sister's wedding; and that if he gave uphis life he knew the charges would be droppedbecause he was absolutely innocent. And so he died."
For a moment Alice stood in silence. "Poor, poor boy!" she said softly. "How I pity him!"
"Do you so? Then well may I. For I amthe uncle whom he named in his letter."
Unable or unwilling to speak she pointed to thetablet as if to say: "You said the uncle he wasnamed after."
He understood. "Yes," he answered slowly,"my name is Robert Ten Broeck Kimberly."
Her eyes fell to the tessellated pavement. "Itis frightfully sad," she said haltingly. Then as ifshe must add something: "I am very sorry youfelt compelled to recall so painful a story."
"It isn't exactly that I felt compelled; yetperhaps that expresses it, too. I have expectedsometime to tell it to you."
The showers returned in the night. Theykept Alice company during several sleeplesshours. In the morning the sun was out. It wasSunday and when Annie brought her mistress herrolls and chocolate Alice asked the maid if she hadbeen to church.
"Kate and I went to early church," said Annie.
"And what time is late church, Annie?"
"Ten thirty, Mrs. MacBirney."
"I am going myself this morning."
"And what will you wear?"
"Anything that is cool."
Alice was thinking less of what she should wearthan of how she should tell her husband that shehad resolved upon going to church. Painfulexperience had taught her what ridicule andresource of conjugal meanness to expect whenevershe found courage to say she meant to go to church.Yet hope, consoling phantom, always suggestedthat her husband the next time might prove moreamenable to reason.
When at last she managed casually to mentionher momentous resolve, MacBirney showedthat he had lost none of his alertness on thesubject. He made use first of surprise to expresshis annoyance. "To church?" Then he gavevent to a contemptuous exclamation uttered witha semblance of good-natured indifference. "Ithought you had got that notion pretty well outof your head, Alice."
"You have got it pretty well out for me, Walter.Sometimes it comes back. It came this morning-aftera wakeful night. I haven't been for along time."
"What church do you want to go to?"
His disingenuousness did not stir her. "To myown, of course. There is a little church in thevillage, you know."
"Oh, that frame affair, yes. Awfully cheaplooking, isn't it? And it threatens rain again.Don't mind getting wet?"
"Oh, no, I'll take the victoria."
"You can't; Peters is going to drive me over toThe Towers."
"Then give me one of the cars."
"I understand they are both out of order."
"Oh, Walter! Can't you have Peters driveyou to The Towers after he takes me to Sunbury?"
"I have an engagement with Robert Kimberlyat eleven o'clock."
"Could you change it a little, do you think,Walter?"
"An engagement with Robert Kimberly!"
"Or be just a little late for it?"
MacBirney used his opportunity to advantage."Keep him waiting! Alice, when you get an ideainto your head about going to church you loseyour common-sense."
She turned to the window to look at the sky."I can't walk," she said hopelessly. Herhusband made no comment. As her eyes turnedtoward the distant Towers she remembered thatRobert Kimberly the evening before had asked-andso insistently that it had been one of thecauses of her wakefulness-for permission tobring over in the morning some grapes from hishot-houses. He had wanted to come at eleveno'clock and she had assured him she should notbe at home-this because, during some uneasymoments when they were close together in thecar, she had resolved that the next morning sheshould seek if only for an hour an influence longneglected but quite removed from his. It wasclear to her as she now stood at the window, thatKimberly had sought every chance to be at herpersonal service at eleven o'clock, even thoughher husband professed an engagement with him.
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